Matthews Gospel Passion Term Paper

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Matthew's Passion

Passion of the Christ

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For better or worse, Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ has had a dramatic impact on the lukewarm Christian community, created fervent emotional responses to its mystic vision and a strange new popular movement towards ecumenism (which was not always welcomed by theologians on either side of this shift). The movie is deeply, inherently Catholic. it's visual iconography, from blocking and casting to the composition of shots to the use of saturated "stain glass" or rich stone-like colors to create a sort of live-action cathedral in motion -- all of these things are deeply rooted in the Catholic artistic tradition. Of course, this is the only artistic tradition which could possibly give birth to this movie, considering the Protestant tradition's historic distaste for the icon, the image, and mystic, the crucifix, and the liberty of the artist. Catholicism has historically put more focus on the stations of the cross and the suffering of the Christ, embodying it in the decades of the rosary. The film is Catholic as well in its insistence on including Mary in a position of empathetic prominence. Considering the degree to which this movie has been most enthusiastically embraced by the protestant conservative right in America, however, one may say that the film is perhaps most Catholic in the literal sense of the word: Catholic, as a word, means complete, or universal. This work seems to have appealed to the complete church, and in that it is perhaps the most catholic. Yet despite its universal appeal, Gibson's film also received rounded critics from many directions. It was called heretical, anti-semitic, overly violent, and (from different sources) accused both of elevating women above their historical/theological place and of being misogynistic. It may be inevitable that a modern work which attempted to be at once theological, historical, coherent, and true to artistic tradition would be controversial, for any one of these pursuits is prone to controversy by itself.

Term Paper on Matthews Gospel Passion Assignment

In terms of the historicity of what happened at the Passion, the four gospels, though complimentary, are hardly consistent in their report of Jesus' crucifixion. They differ on if, and by whom, Jesus was scourged and tormented; they differ on to whom Jesus spoke and did not speak, and what precisely was said; they even differ on the motivation and action of the main characters involved. The discrepancies can easily be reconciled by conservatives as stemming from differences in eye-witness accounts, all reporting true events after their own perspective. The view which holds that the scripture was the transcribed word of God with no need for interpretation or "editing" by the author will suggest that these differences reflect alternative facets of the story which we are meant to understand. Slightly more liberal theologians suggest that the accounts may be secondary accounts derived from primary sources such as the supposed Q (or original) text. The existence of a pre-existing Q. would explain why many of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke in particular) have large chunks which are verbatim duplicates, not just of dialogue (which might represent fidelity to the facts) but also of narrative, which tends to indicate that the authors are quoting another source. In fact, other gospels and records of Jesus' activities are mentioned to exist in the Bible, so this may not be entirely implausible. The most complicated theories hold that there were multiple source docs for the writing of most of the gospels. The Four Gospel theory suggests that in addition to using Mark as a source, Matthew and Luke also appealed to Q, which probably originated near Antioch, while Mattew used a gospel originating from Jewish origins in or about Jerusalem and dubbed gospel M, while Luke used a gospel circulating in Caesarea and dubbed "L." (Streeter) This theory appears to make little significant dialog about the book of John, which is the most disparate of the gospels in many ways when it comes to the story of the crucifixion. Many theologians, from Tatian to Martin Luther, have attempted to create a "harmony" of the Gospels that combines them coherently. These have all been slightly controversial, as they necessitate choosing between alternative versions of the same event and thus deleting, as it were, the version not chosen (which, according to one interpretation of Jesus' words, may be the mortal sin of omitting a jot or tiddle from the Word of God). Mel Gibson, in trying to create a coherent version of the story for the theater, was forced to make just such a harmony of those pieces which struck him as most artistically and historically right. Perforce, then, there are elements which are omitted or eclipsed. In attempting to answer the question of how this film compares with the Gospel of Matthew, it is first necessary to recognize that it does not attempt to be a recreation of that Gospel, but a harmony of the four gospels.

In addition to trying to make a historically accurate film which made coherent sense of the four faces of this story, Mel Gibson was also attempting to make a piece of iconographic art which continued, rather than denied, the artistic heritage of this story. This is seen very vividly in the moment when Jesus is made to carry his cross through the streets. Three condemned men are given crosses. The other two (biblically known as thieves) are given cross-bars to carry. This is historically accurate, according to modern-day research. Jesus, on the other hand, is made to carry the entire cross, because this is how he has been portrayed by generations of artists, and this is how the symbolism of his death (carrying the weight of the cross, not just a beam of wood) has been used through-out theological and mystic thought. Maintaining the visual and metaphorical continuity of the story thus takes precedence over historical research. A similar compromise is made when the nails are put through Jesus' palms (the Babylonian mode of crucifixion) rather than his wrists as would have been the historical Roman mode of execution. Many elements of the film are not attempts at being historical, but attempts at presenting biblical truths, theological lessons in metaphor, or making artistic links and allusions to other sacred works.

In the earlier category are moments like that in which Jesus falls and then speaks to his mother telling her that he will make "all things new." This quote is out of context, coming from considerably later in the Bible. The point is not that Jesus actually made all things new at this historical moment, but rather than Gibson wishes the audience to know that the purpose of this suffering is to bring about a state of newness and grace -- and not having time to make a film of the entire history of Christianity, he moves this vital point into the narrative, making it prophetic rather than active.

In the category of metaphorical elements deal with theology, one finds the appearance of Satan carrying a deformed infant towards Christ. Through-out the film, Satan draws increasingly closer to Christ, and begins to carry this infant towards him. Satan is in fact paralleled with Mary, mother of Jesus. One interpretation is that this deformed thing represents the sins of the world, for Satan's rebellion (and, more directly, Adam joining him in this rebellion) gave birth to death and sin, and Mary's obedience to God (and, more directly, Christ's death and suffering) give birth to the way of life. So Satan carried this death to Christ to bear and to be put to death with him on the Cross -- and the sorrow of Mary loosing her son on the cross is visually paralleled with the sorrow of Satan losing his child (death and sin) which Christ's sacrifice has put to death. This is the reason that at the end, as Mary cuddles the body of her dead child, Satan is surrounded by skeletons of his own, screaming in loss and with a shaved head (which in Jewish tradition is a sign of mourning and shame). One of the biggest complaints of conservative sola scriptura critics is that nowhere in the gospels does it suggest that Satan spoke to Jesus in the Garden or actively participated in (or was seen to observed) the crucifixion. However, a bit of thought on this issue clearly demonstrates that it is metaphorical, meeant to display truth through imagery. Incidentally, this moment where Mary cradles Jesus' corpse in her arms is an artistic allusion to the famous pieta moment, immortalized in art through-out the centuries. Even if it is not directly referenced in the scriptures, the oral/artistic tradition of the crucifixion would be incomplete without it. Such traditions, though not a basis for sound doctrine, are a legitimate way of considering and imagining events.

One may see, then, that there are three primary concerns which drive Gibson in his choices. First, he must attempt to be historically accurate, both according to what is known of the historical figures from… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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